Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 10/2010

On the Economics of Regional Powers: Comparing China, India, Brazil, and South Africa

Robert Kappel

September 2010

German Institute of Global and Area Studies


As the conception of and debates on regional powers have been led by political science, this paper aims to contribute to the discussion from an economics perspective. Based on the discussion of different concepts of economic power—such as those of Schumpeter, Perroux, Predöhl, or Kindleberger—concepts of technological leadership, and the global value chain approaches, the paper develops a research framework for the economics of regional powers. This framework is then tested using descriptive statistics as well as regressions analysis, with a focus on the four regional powers Brazil, China, India, and South Africa. As economic power is relational, the relationship of regional powers to other nations in the region is analyzed. According to the findings, only limited statements on the economics of regional powers are possible: a regional power can be described as an economy with a relatively large population and land area which plays a dominant role in trade within the region and in the regional governance. The regional power develops its technological capacities, and its businesses act regionally and globally with increasing strength.